Cozumel CORAL Reef Leaders Graduate
|Photo: Rich Wilson|
Research proves that education is a highly effective means of modifying environmentally destructive tourist behavior such as fish feeding, reef trampling, and souvenir collecting. When tour operators provide environmental briefings as well as in-water interventions, negative impacts on reefs are greatly reduced. Historically, educational outreach to the marine recreation community has been challenging due to the sheer numbers of tour operators, tourism sites, and full- and part-time employees. The situation becomes even more complex when factors such as additional marine operations (kayaking, boating, nature tours) and high personnel turnover rates are considered.
CORAL is tackling this issue through its CORAL Reef Leadership Network program. A group of qualified local marine tour operators is taught how to convey CORAL's educational curriculum about reef conservation, resource management, and sustainable tourism practices to other marine recreation providers. Each provider is then qualified to communicate this information to visitors. By training the trainers, CORAL is able to increase significantly the number of people who hear its conservation messages.
Participants in the course completed a three-day academy, gaining knowledge of coral reef ecology, major threats facing local reefs, sustainable marine recreation practices, and effective conservation marketing. This new knowledge is then put immediately into practice with additional training in effective facilitation and informal education techniques.
While training is currently focused on CORAL's project sites, the institutional nature of the program will provide a mechanism for outreach, learning, and modeling of sustainability to neighboring coastal communities. Fully functioning CORAL Reef Leadership Networks will clearly demonstrate how businesses, communities, and resource managers can work collaboratively toward coral reef conservation while ensuring a vibrant tourism economy.
This first CORAL Reef Leaders course was so well received that CORAL has been asked by the federal parks authority in partnership with tour operators to provide the training to all of the tour guides who operate in Cozumel Reefs National Park. Graduate trainers of Cozumel's CORAL Reef Leadership Network will hold their first sustainable marine recreation workshop for local tourism operators in late summer, and the first class of CORAL Reef Leaders in Maui will begin training in August.